Esben and the Witch + Trophy Wife @ Hare & Hounds, 8th February 2011

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I didn’t really know what to expect from this mystically named trio but it wasn’t what I got. The stage is smokey, a bass-bin growl trembles the trousers, weird samples shiver: could this be the setting for a Midsummer Murders coven gone wrong? Well, the name comes from a Danish fairy tale so the weapon of choice could be sharpened Ryvita? But all’s well because there’s a Jesus look-alike on bass guitar whilst on lead is a tousle-haired chap with those intense looking professorial horn-rimmed glasses. And of course there’s the elfin enchantress, Rachel Davies, who addresses the tom-tom/snare with decidedly severe, unresolved anger management issues with opener ‘Argyria’.

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The descriptions Drone and Gothic but un-Goth have been bandied about and there’s certainly flavours of Wooden Shjips experimental psychedelic minimalism but Esben and the Witch prowl much further in to the uncharted borderlands of gratuitous volume levels that liquify the body electric. No point assigning instruments between Ms Davies, Daniel Copeman or Thomas Fisher (oh please let the latter be JC) because they chop and change about more often than a fussy guillotine operator. Hypnotic howls of psychotic despair surely shouldn’t be possible, or indeed advisable, coming from shaman-femme Davies where dystopian soundscapes seethe with brittle intensity during ‘Marching’, but my, they’re transfixing. Samples and synths are used to subtle effect in as much as they insinuate into your DNA and unravel the double-helix to re-weave psychic tapestries of splendor. Think Hieronymus Bosch and My Bloody Valentine.

The song titles alone (reminiscent of Dead Can Dance) suggest all sorts of mythological/Classical eclecticism complimented by sonic JCB brain surgery by proxy. Buzzing on four star review from The Guardian earlier that day the band were overwhelmed by the capacity crowd this evening and augured well for the remaining European/US tour schedule being the season of the Witch.

Setlist: Argyria, Marching, Chorea, Hexagons, Marine, Lucia, Warpath, Battlecry, Eumenides.

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Support was a brief set from Trophy Wife although no celeb topical irony seemed forthcoming. An outbreak of Scooby doo Shaggy beards seemed to have taken hold of the band and in this spirit of boho, slightly camp derring do their self-confessed job-description of ‘ambitionless office disco’ was heartily embraced. Copious dance-beat percussion with tribal mantras drove the set with a consistent singular guitar refrain of an oriental flavour. Clever pizzicato chord dynamics and fragile David Byrne like vocals were complemented by synths/samples that created water garden cascades and frosted spider web shimmers. Closing song, ‘Book of Right On’, a Joanne Newsom cover, was an intriguing choice that, for reasons of their own, had ‘X Files’ tweaks peppered ambiguously within the funky/chunky beats. Great fun and the crowd embraced them.

Setlist: (taken from a harassed, sweaty band member during hectic kit shifting..) Take This Night, Microlite, White Horses, The Quiet Earth, Book of Right On.

Openers Silver Souvenirs, driven by a truly demonic possessed drummer and bassist, draw their highly energetic influences from 80’ synthpop traditions. Another time for a more detailed review.

Review – John Kennedy
Photos – Ian Dunn

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